What view does the letter to the Colossians present of Christ Jesus? Is He God? Are we saved by Christ Jesus, or by God? Who created all things and who reconciled all things to God; God or Christ Jesus?
This article is a study of the letter to the Colossians. The purpose is to understand who Christ Jesus is. The next article addresses that question more specifically. The current article lays the foundation for the next.
The letter to the Colossians has been selected for this study because it contains perhaps the highest view of Christ Jesus of all of the New Testament letters, apparently because Christ’s supremacy was challenged (Col 2:4) by the “deception” (Col 2:8) in ancient Colossae.
Unless otherwise indicated, all quotations are from the New American Standard Bible (NASB).
Colossians never refers to Jesus Christ as God. On the contrary, the letter presents Christ Jesus as strictly distinct from God. For example, Jesus “is the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15), “is seated at the right hand of God” (Col 3:1), and was raised from the dead by “God” (Col 2:12; cf. 1:1).
In this consistent and clear distinction between God and Christ Jesus, Colossians uses “Father” as another title for God (e.g. Col 1:1-3, 17).
The letter uses the title “the Lord” only for Jesus (e.g. Col 1:6, 17; 4:24); never for God.
We often hear people say that we are saved by Jesus, but Colossians presents God the Father as the Savior. For example, the Father rescued us from the domain of darkness (Col 1:13), qualified us to share in the inheritance (Col 1:12), and canceled out the certificate of debt, having nailed it to the cross (Col 2:13-14).
God not only reconciled humans to Himself through Christ’s death; He also reconciled the things in heaven to Himself through Christ (Col 1:19-20). Through the cross, God “disarmed the rulers and authorities … having triumphed over them through Him” (Col 2:15; cf. Heb 2:14). These statements imply that the Cross is something which the Father did (cf. John 3:16).
God is also the active Force in creation (Col 1:16). Christ has a passive role. This letter does not mention anything which Jesus do or did. The Father did everything (cf. John 4:34; 5:19).
However, everything that God does, He does through His Son. God created all things “through” Jesus (Col 1:16), saved us “through” his blood (Col 1:14), and reconciled all things to Himself “through” the Cross (Col 1:20; cf. 2:15). Therefore, we also thank God “through” His Son (Col 3:17; cf. Phil 2:10-11; John 5:23).
Since believers are redeemed through Christ Jesus, Colossians, in a number of ways, describe them as in unity with Him. Believers have died with Christ, were made alive with Him (e.g., Col 2:20, 13; 3:1), are Christ’s body (e.g. Col 1:13, 18), subjects of His Kingdom (Col 1:12-13), and are “in Him” (e.g. Col 1:13, 14; 2:11).
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God and Jesus are distinct.
The title “God” appears 21 times in the letter, but never refers to Jesus. To the contrary, the letter presents Christ Jesus as strictly distinct from God. For instance:
“He (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15) Some other translations read, “exactly like God, who cannot be seen” (Contemporary English Version), or as “the visible likeness of the invisible God” (Good News Translation).
“God” raised Jesus from the dead (Col 2:12).
“Christ is seated at the right hand of God” (Col 3:1).
“Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God” (Col 1:1)
The letter, therefore, maintains a consistent and clear distinction between God and Christ Jesus.
Father is another name for God.
The letter refers five times to the “Father.” Two of these instances simply make a distinction between the Father and the Son:
“Joyously giving thanks to the Father …
For He rescued us from the domain of darkness,
and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son”
“It was the Father’s good pleasure
for all the fullness to dwell in Him”
“Him” refers to “His beloved Son”
in verse 13 (Col 1:19; cf. 1:13).
But the other instances confirm the distinction between “Jesus Christ” and “God” and shows that “Father” is another name for God:
“Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ
by the will of God …
Grace to you and peace from God our Father.
We give thanks to God,
the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Col 1:1-3).
“Whatever you do in word or deed,
do all in the name of the Lord Jesus,
giving thanks through Him to God the Father”
God is also “our Father” (Col 1:2) because we are sons of God (e.g. Rom 8:14). We pray to “Our Father who is in heaven” (Matt 6:9). He is our Father because He loves us and cares for us.
In Colossians, the word “son” is only found in Colossians 1:13, where Jesus is “His beloved Son.” This is not mentioned in Colossians, but Jesus is the Son of God in a different way: He is “the only begotten from the Father” (John 1:14).
According to Colossians 1:19, it was God’s will for “all the fullness” to dwells in Jesus. In the first place, this means that “in Him (Christ) all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (Col 2:9). In the second place, it means that the Son received “the fullness of Deity” from the Father: It is not His own. This concept is further discussed in God is the Head of Christ.
Christ Jesus is called Lord.
The title “Christ“ is found 26 times in this letter. The name Jesus is used 6 times, but never alone, always as Jesus Christ or as Christ Jesus. Jesus was a common name at the time. The addition of “Christ” was necessary to identify Him. In this letter, Paul actually mentions somebody else by the name Jesus (Col 4:11).
The title “the Lord” appears 11 times; most often simply as “the Lord”, but also as:
- “Christ Jesus the Lord” (Col 1:6),
- “The Lord Jesus” (Col 1:17), and
- “The Lord Christ” (Col 4:24).
The title “Lord,” therefore, is not used for God; only for Jesus.
The Father is the Savior.
We often hear people say that we are saved by Jesus, but Colossians presents God the Father as the Savior:
Grace is from “God” (Col 1:6).
He selects His messengers. Paul is an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God (Col 1:1). He was made a minister of the church according to the stewardship from God bestowed on him (Col 1:25).
God is the Savior: The Father rescued us from the domain of darkness (Col 1:13) and qualified us to share in the inheritance (Col 1:12). God canceled out the certificate of debt, having nailed it to the cross (Col 2:14; cf. 2:12-13). God raised the believers from death when He raised Jesus from death (Col 2:12-13; 3:1). We must thank “God the Father” through Christ (Col 3:16-17; cf. 1:3, 12).
God gives growth to the church (Col 2:19). He chose the believers (Col 3:12) and will open up a door for the word (Col 4:2). It was God’s will to make known to His saints what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles (Col 1:27-28).
God brought peace to the universe.
Not only did God reconcile humans to Himself through Christ’s death; He also reconciled the things in heaven to Himself through Christ:
“It was the Father’s good pleasure …
through Him to reconcile all things to Himself,
having made peace through the blood of His cross;
through Him, I say,
whether things on earth or things in heaven” (Col 1:19-20).
This implies that the Cross is something which the Father did (cf. John 3:16). As I understand it, the Father knew what will happen if His Son comes as a human being to this world, filled with violence. God did not determine what will happen; it is simply the natural result of a clash between the forces of good and evil.
These verses also indicate that the Cross did not reconcile God to us: It reconciled us to God. Christ died to change us: His death did not change God.
Through the cross, God “disarmed the rulers and authorities … having triumphed over them through Him” (Col 2:15). Hebrews 2:14 similarly states: “that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil.” “The rulers and authorities,” therefore, refer to “the devil” and his angels (Rev 12:7, 9).
For a further discussion, see:
The Father, also known as God, therefore, is the active Force in salvation.
God is the Creator.
“By Him (Jesus) all things were created,
both in the heavens and on earth …
all things have been created through Him and for Him”
The NASB reads, “by Him all things were created,” but later adds that “all things have been created through Him.” This means that God is the Creator, but God created through His Son. The basic meaning of the Greek word translated as “by” in this verse is “in.” This is made clear by other translations of this verse:
“For in him all things were created …
all things have been created
through him and for him” (NIV).
“Through him God created everything
in heaven and on earth” (Good News Translation).
The Father, also known as God, therefore, is the active Force in creation. For a further discussion, see God created all things through His Son.
Christ has a passive role.
The letter refers to “Christ’s afflictions” (Col 1:24), which reminds of Gethsemane, where “His sweat became like drops of blood” (Luke 22:44), indicating His severe emotional suffering. All evil forces gathered their focus on Him in an effort to make Him use His power to act against God’s will (Luke 22:42). But apart from these “afflictions,” this letter does not mention anything which Jesus do or did. The Father did everything. This principle, namely that God is the active Force, as opposed to Jesus, is consistent with what Jesus said, as recorded in John:
“My food is to do the will of him
who sent me and to accomplish his work”
“The Son can do nothing of Himself,
unless it is something He sees the Father doing”
“I can do nothing on My own initiative.
As I hear, I judge … I do not seek My own will,
but the will of Him who sent Me” (John 5:30).
“The words that I say to you
I do not speak on My own initiative,
but the Father abiding in Me does His works”
Colossians presents God as the active force both in creation and in salvation, but He does everything through His Son. Therefore, we also thank God through His Son (Col 3:17; cf. Phil 2:10-11; John 5:23).
Redeemed through unity with Christ Jesus
Since believers are redeemed through Christ Jesus, Colossians, in a number of ways, describe them as in unity with Him:
Christ and the believers form a single body.
“His beloved Son … is also head of the body,
the church” (Col 1:13, 18, cf. v24).
“The head, from whom the entire body …
grows with a growth which is from God” (Col 2:17-19; cf. 3:15).
The believers form the body and Christ is the head.
Believers are the subjects of His Kingdom.
“The Father … transferred us to
the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col 1:12-13).
When we are “rescued” (Col 1:12), we become the subjects of a spiritual kingdom of which His Beloved Son is King.
Believers are “in Him.”
The redemption of believers through unity with Jesus is also presented with phrases such as “in Him” or “with Him”:
“In Whom (In His beloved Son) …
we have redemption,
the forgiveness of sins” (Col 1:13, 14).
“In Him you were also circumcised
with a circumcision made without hands” (Col 2:11).
“In Him you have been made complete”
(Col 2:10; cf. 1:28, 2; 2:6-7).
Believers died with Christ and were made alive with Him.
The letter describes believers as united with Christ in His death and resurrection:
“You have died with Christ” (Col 2:20).
“He made you alive together with Him” (Col 2:13).
“You have been raised up with Christ” (Col 3:1).
“Having been buried with Him in baptism,
in which you were also raised up with Him
through faith in the working of God,
who raised Him from the dead” (Col 2:12).
Believers did not literally die with Christ. Nor have they been literally made alive with Christ. But they are rescued through His death and through His resurrection.
The meaning of Christ’s death
It is not Christ’s death that was important; it was His life. His entire life was a test, and the last days and hours of His life was the highest possible test. He lived a sinless life, even to death, and His resurrection was confirmation there-of. His “afflictions” (Col 1:24) were physical, but mostly spiritual. Jesus said:
“Do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father,
and He will at once put at My disposal
more than twelve legions of angels” (Matt 26:53)?
But He “disarmed the rulers and authorities” (Col 2:15) by never sinning by going against God’s will. Even when God withdrew His presence from Jesus, leaving the disoriented Jesus to cry, “my God, my God, why have You forsaken me” (Matt 27:46), He did not sin or use His power for His own benefit. For a further discussion, see – The Seven Seals of Revelation.
God reconciled all things—things on earth and things in heaven—to Himself through the death of His Son. Therefore, Paul presents believers as united with Christ. They are united with Him in His death, they are united with Him in His resurrection, and “in Him we live and move and exist” (Acts 17:28 – from Paul’s sermon on Mars Hill). This seems to be more than a symbol: it is a mysterious reality.
The letter to the Colossians:
- Has the highest view of Christ Jesus of all of the New Testament letters.
- Never refers to Jesus Christ as God.
- Presents Christ Jesus as strictly distinct from God.
- Uses “Father” as another title for God.
- Uses the title “the Lord” only for Jesus.
- Presents God the Father as the Savior.
According to Colossians:
- God reconciled the things in heaven to Himself through Christ.
- God is the active Force in creation. Christ has a passive role.
- Everything that God does, He does through His Son.
- Describe believers as in unity with Christ.
Nature of Christ – Is Jesus God?
Book of Daniel
Book of Revelation
Other key articles
For general discussions of theology, I recommend Graham Maxwell, who you will find on the Pineknoll website.